Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Insiders View of "Sicko"

Like Bob, I haven't seen MM's newest "documentary" (although, to be fair, I'm not a big movie guy; the last film I saw was the new James Bond flick). But it appears I really don't need to:

"Ask any Cuban who has recently left the island (because they can’t talk freely about this inside of Cuba) about their health care system and they will tell you that it is often a challenge just to get aspirin and they often have to get it on the black market. The run-down, dilapidated and unsanitary conditions in the facilities that the average Cuban must go to for care are a far cry from the hospitals and clinics reserved for high-ranking members of the communist party or the military. There are actually special facilities in Cuba that serve foreigners who can pay in foreign currency."

Read the whole thing (scroll down, since the site doesn't use permalinks).

Why isn't health care compulsory?

[Welcome Junk Food Science and Industry Radar readers!]

I say it’s time for Congress to face up to Americans’ needs, and make health care compulsory.

I’m not talking about health insurance. I’m talking about health care. Health insurance is not the same as health care. Who calls their insurance agent when sick or injured? Who calls an actuary? Don’t real people call their doctor or go to the emergency room? Yet our so-called leaders go on and on about compulsory insurance as though insurance is what we need even though it’s obvious that health care is what we need. The public is being sold insurance when we should be buying health care. If anything needs to be made compulsory, it is health care – not health insurance.

Once this concept is understood, it's clear what must be done. First, all health care professionals become employees of the Federal Government, paid a living wage from public funds. Second, hospitals, clinics, labs and other facilities are nationalized and their staffs also become employees of the Federal Government. Fair compensation is paid to the former owners just as for the condemnation of any other private property for public use. Third, the Federal health care professionals examine any person who wants health care, and issue health care orders to anyone who is determined to actually need health care. Fourth, it is illegal to seek or receive health care from anyone except a Federal health care professional. Fifth, everyone in the country is included in the plan; however the full cost (plus an administration fee) for non-legal aliens' health care is charged back to their home country via the home country’s foreign exchange account maintained at the U.S. Treasury. Finally a system of regional Federal Health Tribunals will be established.

The Federal Health Tribunals are empowered to impose heavy fines upon individuals who shirk their civic duty to follow health care orders, including refusal to alter lifestyle when so ordered (e.g., exercise, stop smoking, lose weight). The Tribunals also have authority to order health shirkers confined until treated. Depending on the seriousness of the condition, the confinement may be in a hospital or if hospitalization is not required, to (a) the Governors’ mansion, (b) the home of any elected State or local official, (c) any residence maintained by a member of Congress, or (d) any private home larger than 3,000 square feet.

The Tribunals also have the power to order a provider who refuses to deliver care that is ordered by a regional Federal Health professional, to perform unpaid community service within the Tribunal’s region.

Refusal by a health shirker or a health care provider to comply with an order of a Health Tribunal will carry penalties similar to contempt of Court and may involve fines or imprisonment or both.

Making health care compulsory would address actual need. Public funds to pay for compulsory health insurance would not be wasted on “insurance” but would be spent directly for health care. Everyone would then be healthy, happy, and handsome, and all our children would be smarter than average. Overnight, our life expectancy would be the highest in the world and infant mortality would drop to zero.

I call on Congress to enact this plan now.

Friday, June 29, 2007

USFL has left the Building

As one might imagine, folks with diabetes, cancer survivors and other folks with significant health problems often find it difficult to obtain life insurance. For one thing, a lot of agents represent only one carrier, which are often picky. Even independent agents, though, aren't always aware of alternative markets for their difficult-to-place cases.
For a long time, most of us "in the know" have relied on US Financial Life as our "go-to" source for social smokers, folks who've had recent bouts with cancer, mutliple-bypasses, and the like. USFL has been "aggressive" in its underwriting, often taking cases that other carriers either declined or rated so drastically as to render the coverage unaffordable.
But the industry is changing, and this time for the better; today, I received an email announcing that the "impaired risk market served by USFL is limited in size and has come under economic pressure as traditional carriers are increasingly expanding into substandard risk classes. Given these challenges, AXA Financial has decided to discontinue writing new business at USFL." [ed: apology to readers; I'm still looking for a linkable version of the announcement]
In other words, more "regular" insurers are willing to look seriously at "problem cases," which means more choices for consumers. I've placed a few cases with USFL over the years, and been happy to have them in my "quiver of carriers," but I also like the idea that my clients will have more choices, and competition should help drive down costs.
We'll have to wait and see on that last, of course.
Oh, and what about in-force policies? According to USFL's prez, Tim Herr, "(e)xisting coverage will continue for clients: the terms and conditions of their policies will remain in place."
As it should.

Cavalcade of Risk #29: Submissions Due

Just a reminder that submissions for next week's CoR are due Monday (the 2nd). Our hostess, Wenchy at Wisdom from Wenchy, asks that you PLEASE include:
■ Your blog's url
■ Your post's url
■ The post's trackback URL (if available)
■ A (brief) summary of the post
You can submit them via Blog Carnival or email.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the July 4th Holiday, next week's Cav will be posted on the 5th.
Also, we still have Fall '07 hosting slots available. Hosting is fun, easy, and gets you off the "nag" list. Just drop us a line!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hospitals v Bloggers

Paris (Texas, not Hilton) is home to the Paris Regional Medical Center.
And so, you ask?
Turns out, a disgruntled blogger has been busy pointing out sundry (and alleged) nasty items about said health care institution.
Apparently, the bloggers* -- who have thus far remained anonymous -- claim that PRMC has engaged in various criminal enterprises, including Medicare fraud. In fact, it appears that the bloggers have been fed specific information from actual hospital employees, which raises a number of issues, not the least of which would be potential HIPAA privacy violations.
[*ed: At this point, it's not certain whether the blog is run by one person or several, so I went with the multiple to keep it simple]
The hospital is hardly taking this lying down; they've convinced a court to order the bloggers' ISP to disclose their identities.
As in the case of Dr Flea, there are a number of issues in play here. As The Assertive Patient notes, there are competing interests: "Is the blog uncovering wrongdoing by the hospital? And is the hospital retaliating by bringing the suit? Will the blog be protected by the First Amendment, as other publications are?"
It's not immediately clear that so-called "Shield Laws" will apply in this case. After all, these are not journalists, but bloggers. There's an argument to be made, however, that bloggers are "citizen journalists," and I wouldn't necessarily argue against that characterization. But it seems to me that this is far from clear-cut.
In the meantime, I suspect that this story will become the most recent cause celebre (literally, Celebrity Cruise) for the medblogosphere, and we'll keep IB readers informed as we learn more.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

FFS & Medicare

In other words, a FFS plan stands in for Medicare and Medigap (aka MedSup or Medicare Supplement) plans. It takes one's Medicare reimbursement and liability "offline," and makes it more of a one-on-one arrangement with your provider, rather than the traditional third-party arrangement we've all come to know and (ahem) love.
With FFS plans, Medicare pays a private insurer (e.g. Blue Cross) so many dollars per month on your behalf, and the carrier pays any claims out of that stipend. If they miscalculate, or your health declines, they may end up paying out more than they got from the gummint; likewise, if you're relatively healthy and have few claims, they get to keep the difference.
Not exactly rocket science.
In fact, if you're so inclined, the folks at Medicare have made available a handy booklet that explains all about how these plans work, and can help you decide whether or not one is "right for you."
Once one has decided to give the FFS system a whirl, one needs to sign up (enroll) in whichever plan is currently offered and available. There may be more than one, or none at all. What's different is how companies that offer FFS's "incentivize" folks to choose theirs. For example, many (most?) folks find that the traditional Medicare system leaves a lot of gaps in their coverage, so they buy Medicare Supplement policies, often sold by insurance agents. Of course, these agents (such as yours truly) are paid a (very modest) commission for each sale. These commissions are paid by the insurance carrier with whom the policy was placed.
Until recently, Medicare Advantage plans (of which FFS's are a subset) were sold directly by the carrier, not through an agent. But FFS plans may be sold by agents, who are paid a fee (similar to a commission) for the sale. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, my industry has a long history of shooting itself in the foot (cf: Single Premium Life), and the FFS biz is no different:
Gotta love that last: I thought dead folks only voted in Chicago; who knew they also bought health insurance in Peoria? And it's a non-trivial amount of money, in that FFS plans "account for about 20 percent of the $60 billion Medicare Advantage program." Ouch.
In the event, Medicare is working with the carriers involved in this little kerfluffle to determine guidelines, and they've temporarily stopped pushing these plans until there's sufficient oversight and enforcement in play.
I was particularly pleased to see Bloomberg quote fellow medblogger Bob Laszewski, who opined that "(i)t's a positive development in that they are doing something, but it's somewhat hollow...Someone came up with a fantastic public relations marketing, failing to tell people that 99 percent of all sales occur during the open enrollment.''
Bob's referring to the fact that, perhaps not coincidentally, the aforementioned carriers have ceased their marketing efforts at the same time that the Medicare Open Enrollment Period is in hiatus.
Not that we're cynical or anything.
So what's the bottom line: are FFS plans a good thing or not?
Well, that depends, really, on what one expects from one's insurance. I've always been of the opinion that there are trade-offs in such plans: cost vs availability, exposure vs access. If one saves a bunch of money, but can no longer see one's trusted family physician, is the trade-off worthwhile? Seeems to me that that's a personal decision, pne not to be taken lightly or without some serious contemplation. On the other hand, no one's claiming that the plans themselves are defective in some way. If one knows ahead of time that certain provicers aren't going to be available, but that one's monthly premiums are going to decrease substantially, then perhaps it's a worthwhile trade-off.
Food for thought.

You Want Answers?

Remember the movie "A Few Good Men"? Remember the exchange between Jack Nicholson & Tom Cruise. "You want answers?" as Jack challenged Tom.

Now it seems ABC's Good Morning America is looking for answers.

Well, today we are announcing a GMA commitment to take a hard look at the health insurance industry, to get some answers about those policies we keep hearing about, about what happens to sick people in a time of need. Today, you're going to hear about something called rescission. It is a controversial practice where insurance companies retroactively cancel the policy, often after you're trying to make a claim. Chris Cuomo here again with the story of a young woman who faced a real crisis. Her sight was at risk."

No doubt, rescission is a controversial topic.

But so is insurance fraud.

According to the industry's, the insurance industry's own estimates, thousands of similar rescission investigations into policy holders occur every year. And most of them lose their coverage as a result. It's a frightening practices you might miss in the fine print of your health insurance policy. Shannon Dagher, a 22-year-old college student, says she was at the eye doctor for a check-up last November, one month after her new insurance policy kicked in when she received terrible news."

Shannon Dagher (Denied Insurance): "I was diagnosed with a very rare disorder It's called pseudo tumor cerebri. It basically looks and acts like a brain tumor."

Cuomo: "Now, Shannon's doctors say she needs surgery or she may go blind."

Dagher: "I'm petrified of the thought of going blind. I've never been sick before in my life. And now, in the past six months, I've started to lose my peripheral vision and I'll never get that back."

Cuomo: "But instead of authorizing the surgery, here insurer, Blue Cross of California stopped processing her bills

I would not suggest fraud in this case, but the carrier is obligated to investigate.

The vast majority of claims are paid on a timely basis with little or no investigation. But when a new policyholder submits an illness related claim within the first few months, the carrier investigates to see if there is a tie in to a pre-existing condition that was not reported on the application.

In other words, is the insured trying to pull a fast one on the carrier by deliberately withholding relevant information about their health that could affect the outcome of the underwriting decision.

"Isn't it a little fishy though that this rescission review process only begins after someone files a claim? Isn't that suspicious? You know, why don't you just do it when I'm applying in the first place, figure out whether I'm telling you the truth, like most industries.

One can also ask, isn't it fishy that someone visits a doctor in the first 30 days after the policy is issued only to be diagnosed with a serious medical condition?

I can't tell you the number of people I talk with during any given week that ask about how to get coverage for an existing condition.

And that is just the conditions they are willing to admit to . . .

Carriers do investigate up front. They rely not just on the application, but independent sources where your medical records and pharmacy records are stored. In many cases they also will request specific doctor records depending on what they find through other sources.

GMA went back to Blue Cross for clarification on Shannon Dagher's case. What really surprised us was that shortly after we asked about Shannon's policy, she learned that her investigation was complete and her policy would not be canceled.

Why is this a surprise?

The carrier did the investigation. Determined there was no fraud. Paid the claim.

Isn't this what carriers are SUPPOSED to do?

Seems like GMA can't handle the truth.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Surgery & Guiness: An Update

Seems our erstwhile surgeon-in-waiting has attracted the eye of John Law:
The gendarmes have apparently already arrested the miscreant's parents, and are on the lookout for Doogie, as well.
This doesn't appear to be headed towards a happy ending.

Sauce for Goose, #4

For all the enthusiasm expended by those who want to see Canadian-style, big government health care implemented here, I think it's fascinating that those who actually live it aren't necessarily so hot on it.
And it's not just a few grumbling malcontents who seem to prefer a more, oh, private type of system:
Turns out, former Canuck leaders Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark have all been availaing themselves of these private clinics (of which there are apparently quote a few, putting the lie to those who tout this as an ideal system).
And even among those who do choose the services of the nationalized system, a little "some are more equal than others" appears to be the order of the day:
"(U)nion leader Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Autoworkers, proved a master at "queue jumping" when he got in for an MRI within 24 hours of injuring his leg."
"Queue jumping." Heh. Careful there, Buzz, don't want to sprain an ankle and require any more free health care.
But even those accused of "bashing" the Canadian system (such as Dr Day) aver that "(n)o doctor in Canada I know wants a U.S. system."
Sure, whatever you say, Doc.

An Inspiring Grand Rounds

Wandering Visitor asked contributors to this week's 'Rounds to send in posts about "Things that inspire you."
And boy, did she get a boatload: over 3 dozen posts, most of which followed the theme. It was interesting to see what kinds of things medbloggers find inspiring.
Dealing with two teenaged daughters, I was particularly moved by Nancy Bown's post on parenting as inspiration. She draws on the Virgina Tech tragedy, as well as her own experiences. Quite inspiring.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sicko Review

I normally refrain from making comments on things where I do not have first hand knowledge. I have not seen Michael Moore's movie "Sicko" and don't plan to. His other works have shown him to be a legend in his own mind with information that is distorted and very one-sided.

I ran across this review and found it of interest. Perhaps you will as well.

Moore begins by insisting that his story will be about people who have insurance, not those who go without. But some of his most vivid examples -- such as a man who loses two fingers in an accident and can only afford to pay for one of them to be reattached -- are about people who do not have any coverage at all.

Comments welcome.

Monday Miscellany

■ A co-worker's husband (a minister, no less!) is blogging his trip to Israel. He left a bit over a week ago, and has a week more to go. He's posted some beautiful pictures, as well as his own observations and thoughts on where he is and what he's seen. Worth clicking.
■ A few weeks ago, I lambasted GE for its terrible customer service. In the meantime, I've had two extremely wonderful customer service experiences, which I'll share:
I recently "inherited" a Bang & Olufsen CD/Radio unit. It's quite beautiful, and I'm sure that it sounds great, but I had no way of knowing since I lacked the instructions. A quick perusal of the B&O website yielded no help, so I dropped the company an email explaining my plight. A few days later, I received a .pdf with everything I needed to know.
About the same time, I also "inherited" a whisk attachment for our Cuisinart Food Processor. Again, I was sure that it would be a terrific tool, but with no instructions, I had no idea how to use it. Same drill: cruise over to Cuisinart's website, poke around, no instructions, but a helpful contact form. Completed, submitted and waited. Lo and behold: last week I received a phone call from a Cuisinart rep, who offered to send me the instructions I needed, but lacked my snail mail address. The instructions arrived in todays mail.
Now THAT'S customer service!

Amazing Carnival Monday

This week, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were included in both of the top finance-related carnivals:
The "Silicon Valley Blogger" (of The Digerati Life) put together a mind-numbing 91 posts for this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, all held together with a kind of fantasy-mythology theme. Believe it or not, it really does work; maybe a little better than most of us would have believed.
Of course, with that many entries, it's nearly impossible to pick out a favorite, but Kelly Bejelly, blogging at A Girl Worth Saving, tells of a harrowing experience with credit card/identity theft, how she handled it, and some pointers for the rest of us.
The Carnival of The Capitalists is at Management Professor Notes (II), hosted by Prof Sandy Kristin Piderit. The good professor presents 40 interesting posts, categorized and with helpful context.
Having recently written on the importance of customer service, I was drawn to Jason Rakowski's post which illustrated the concept of good vs bad customer service in an entertaining, and quite helpful, way.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Legal Eagle Carnival News

Regular Cavalcade of Risk contributor Eric Turkewitz recently tipped me to a weekly compendium of "(s)ome of the best of the recent blogs dealing with personal injury law (that I found)," the Personal Injury Law Round-Up.
It's actually quite interesting, and somewhat overlaps both the CoR and the Health Wonk Review. But it's different, too: if you've ever watched Perry Mason (or Boston Legal), then you won't be surprised by some of the antics chronicled by RU contributors. Check it out, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Medical Tourism: Not What We had in Mind

Perhaps you've heard, but the son of not one, but two prominent Indian physicians has delivered a woman's baby.

And so, you ask?

And so: the young man in question is but 15 years old and no, his name is not Sumit Howzer. In fact, he's still in school (no, not med school, thank you very much). His father encouraged, and oversaw, the procedure because, well, "he wanted to see his son's name in the Guinness Book of World Records."

Well. Who could argue with that?

Oh, right:

"Amarilis Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the record book, said in an e-mail response to a question from The Associated Press that the organization doesn't monitor or endorse such feats because it would encourage the practice of "bad medicine."


At least mom and baby are reported to be doing fine.

Shoes, Latte's and Health Insurance

Coming soon to a mall near you . . .

It looks like a regular retail store with sales associates and items to purchase like ... health insurance? Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida opened Florida Blue, a retail store specializing in selling health insurance.

The store, located in the St. Johns Town Center, opened Feb. 26 and if the first three months are any indication, the concept of retail health insurance is a success.

“We are on track to exceed our projected numbers for the year,” said Jon Urbanek, vice president of sales and operations. “We had a certain number per month we needed to sell and we are exceeding that.

“We have sold 400 policies in three months.”

Attention health insurance shoppers. . .!

Keeping Score

Insurance companies, for all their maddening business practices, are mostly just moving money around in the health care business. They are the middle man. They collect a ton of premiums from a broad group of people and then pay most of it in medical bills for the relative few who get sick or injured each year. About 85 percent of the money they take in goes right back out in payments to doctors, hospitals, labs and drug companies.

85%? What about those who claim that carriers WASTE 30%+ and a government run system is less than 5%?

look at what has happened in California in recent years. According to reports on file with the Department of Managed Health Care, the seven largest insurers have seen their revenues climb from $45 billion in 2002 to $71 billion in 2006. That sounds ominous. These firms are taking in 58 percent more than they were just a few years ago.

But guess what? During that same period, the medical expenses those seven companies paid out on our claims climbed from $40 billion to $62 billion. That's an increase of 55 percent.

More coming in, but an almost equal amount going out.

But what about profits?

Take away the profits -- all of them -- and assume the companies would have charged us that much less, and their revenues would have risen by 51 percent instead of 58 percent. In other words, if you want to take a significant bite out of the cost of health care, you're just going to have to look somewhere else.

Something that has been drummed at InsureBlog on more than one occasion.

Mental Health

Soldiers returning from war are finding it more difficult to get mental health treatment because military insurance is cutting payments to therapists, on top of already low reimbursement rates and a tangle of red tape.

The problems with government run health care continue . . .

Wait lists now extend for months to see a military doctor and it can takes weeks to find a private therapist willing to take on members of the military

Waiting lists? That sounds like socialized medicine.

Oh, yeah. I forgot.

Tricare's reimbursement rate is tied to Medicare's, which pays less than civilian employer insurance. The rate for mental health care services fell by 6.4 percent this year as part of an adjustment in reimbursements to certain specialties

Is it any wonder why providers are limiting the number of Tricare patients they will see? Who wants to work for LESS money than they did last year?

Psychologists who treat active duty troops are paid 66 percent of what Tricare views as the customary rate. So a psychologist eligible for a customary rate of $120 per hour would be paid $79.20 for the hour by Tricare, even if the psychologist's standard rate is $150 per hour.

Maybe those who work for the government need to consider a pay cut. Wonder how quickly the workers would revolt if their pay was cut in half but they were expected to perform the same amount of work as before?

In a limited study by Tricare released earlier this year, about two out of three civilian psychiatrists in 20 states were willing to accept Tricare Standard clients among their new patients, the lowest acceptance rate for any specialty.

This is an injustice to those who have served their country.

Lose Some, Win Some

Regardless of where one stands on the gay marriage issue, it never seemed equitable to me that employers would offer "domestic partner" benefits to gay couples while giving hetero ones the cold shoulder. And now, it looks as if that whole kerfluffle may become moot:
Well, that seems to have settled that.
Or maybe not: there's an appeal currently wending its way through the Wolverine State's legal system, so we'll have to wait for the final word there.
■ Meantime, Kentucky's Attorney General has put the kibosh on two Blue Grass State universities offering those domestic partner benefits, again regardless of sexual orientation.
■ In Nebraska, a US Appeals Court upheld an amendment barring government agencies from offering such benefits to same-sex couples (although it didn't address unwed heterosexual partners).
■ And here in the Buckeye State, a lawsuit's been filed to prohibit my alma mater's (Miami University - Go Redskins!) from granting health and other benefits to same-sex partners of that institution's employees.
On the other hand, more and more employers are looking to "do right by" folks who adopt. According to USA Today, almost half of employers offer adoption benefits; that's a 25% increase from just a few years ago.
But just what does "adoption benefit" mean?
Well, that depends on whom you ask. Some employers provide cash-on-the-barrelhead for legal services, others give paid time off for folks to adjust to their newly-expanded families. The only downside is that, since these are not considered as benefits under 213(d), the proceeds themselves are taxable as income. Still, 75% of something is better than nada.
If you're thinking about adoption, you might want to check out this website for a list of which companies offer what additional benefits.

What's in Your Wallet?

If you had a choice, between privately funded, privately managed health coverage and one provided by the taxpayer, which would you choose?

The results may be surprising . . .

Americans living in Canada compare the U.S. system with the Canadian system.

Seventy-four percent rated the overall quality of US health care as excellent or good, compared with 50% who gave this rating to Canadian health care.

The features of the US system rated most positively were timeliness and quality; those rated most highly in the Canadian system were equity and cost-efficiency.

The most negatively viewed features of the US system were cost/inefficiency and inequity; those of the Canadian system were wait times and personnel shortages.

While this may be considered unscientific, the survey does reflect perception. While facts may support one system over another, if those using the system are not pleased it does not matter what the scientific data suggests. Perception becomes reality.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We Get Mail!

One of the great benefits to hosting a blog on insurance matters is that, from time to time, we’re offered the opportunity to help folks out. I really do mean that: all four of us really do enjoy helping people solve their insurance problems [ed: well, it sure ain’t for the money!]. We aren’t always successful, as you’ll see in this instance; what we’d really like is for our readers to offer any suggestions (and/or relevant experiences they’ve had). This can be done via the comments section, or by email. And now, our letter from Bruce*:
[*All names have been changed to ensure privacy. Content was edited for brevity.]
I'm going to have a stroke or massive heart attack while talking to a medical or insurance institution.
I recently had a physical exam. My chief complaint was constant fatigue. The doctor said my lab tests were fine; it was most probably sleep apnea and I should go get a test to confirm.
I begin to wonder what this will cost. The web has informed me that the "test" is to spend the night in the hospital while being filmed and wired to recording devices. Sounds expensive [and] I wonder what the insurance will pay. I plan to ask the insurance company (BCBS), but know from experience that they do not like this question. I resolve to get the CPT ( Diagnosis code) and ICD9 (treatment code) from the hospital; the charges are $139 for ½ hour visit with doctor before the test and $3000 for the test.
I now call BCBS. I explain that I am trying to find out what my cost would be for a medical procedure before I commit to having it. [I am told] that the information I am asking for does not exist. Oh sure it does; I have the ICD9 code for her. She then asks me what hospital I am going to [and] her the hospital’s financial payer code. I do not have the answer, [so] this ends the conversation.
I really want to know, so I call again. This time I get Marvi [who] listens to my explanation and question. She asks me to wait a moment, and then comes back on line to say the ICD9 code I have given is invalid. I repeat the number in case we got it wrong. She is sympathetic but we can go no further. I now have the information that the insurance will pay for 90% of the usual cost after I pay the deductible. But of course without the ICD9 code I cannot know the "usual cost". One would think that the sacred ICD9 codes would be freely available on the web. I use Google and to my surprise I find the code. It is 89.17.
Now for the diagnosis code (CPT). I learned in another life that the AMA copyrights them and all users must pay a fee to have them. All I want is to be a responsible citizen and keep my medical expenses to those that I consider worth the money. This is a completely discretionary expense. I have no desire to have medical expenses that I don't need."
And there matters stand. The four of us have noodled this, and have thus far determined the following (which we’ve shared with Bruce):
1) He should consult with his HR folks to see what (if any) help they can be in this. (As it turns out, he had not already done so)
2) Determine if he has access to a Flexible Spending Account (to help mitigate his actual out of pocket costs)
3) Go to the carriers website to see if there are any transparency tools available.
So there you have it, dear readers. Any other suggestions?

Cavalcade of Risk #28 is up!

Julie Ferguson, of Workers Comp Insider fame, hosts this week's Cavalcade of Risk. She's put together quite the issue, with a record-setting 24 interesting risk-related posts. Please check it out.
And consider hosting a Cav yourself; Julie can tell you that it's easy, fun, and a nice traffic bump. Just drop us a line to sign up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Senior Moment

One of the neat things about SiteMeter is that one can see from whence our visitors have come. I've noticed that we've had several referrals from a new (to me) site, Health Management Rx. It's hosted by Jen McCabe Gorman, a Washington (DC)-based hospital/healthcare industry analyst and consultant.

Recently, Jen had coffee with an elderly gentleman with a unique -- and disturbing -- perspective on the state of elder care. Part 1 is here, and her follow-up is here.

Read both.

Dear Grand Rounds...

If you like Dear Abby (and even if you don't), you'll love this week's Grand Rounds. Geena, hostess of Codeblog, presents her 3 dozen-entry 'Rounds as an advice column, with some mighty fine entries.
My step-father, due to some health issues, must use an electric "scooter" to get around. On the one hand, it's an acknowledgement that his health has declined; OTOH, it's pretty cool (a jazzy red number, with a basket and headlight). As a guy, though, I'm sure he'd love the new models from Porsche (yes, that Porsche). Read all about some new "alternate transportation" options at Science Roll.

Senor Dentist

Mexico is quickly transforming its border cities into catch basins for millions of bargain-hunting and uninsured Americans.

For example:

* Arizona retirement communities now organize regular bus tours for Mexican dental work and inexpensive drugs.
* New hospitals have opened in Tijuana, because some U.S. health plans have begun covering services in Mexico.
* And tiny border communities, some about an hour from Ciudad Juarez, are becoming dentistry boomtowns to handle an ever-growing flow of American patients flying in from as far away as Alaska.


* In a recent University of Texas study, 86 percent of low-income El Paso residents surveyed -- half of whom were illegal immigrants -- said they receive medical care or buy prescription drugs from Mexico.
* Similarly, a study published in the Pan-American Journal of Health found that more than 37 percent of uninsured New Mexico border residents get medical care in Mexico.

Earn money in the U.S., spend it in Mexico.

What a novel idea.

Americans travel to Mexico for stomach surgery, eye exams and routine checkups. But it is the "dentistas" -- thousands of them strung along the border -- who are in the vanguard in attracting U.S. health consumers:

* Mexican dentists often charge one-fifth to one-fourth of U.S. prices.
* Their operating costs are substantially lower than those in the United States, and because the Mexican legal system makes it almost impossible to sue them, they don't have to worry about high malpractice insurance premiums.

No med mal. That certainly saves money but not enough to account for 75%+ discount off the cost of services.

But is it safe?

The phenomenon has unsettled U.S.-based dentists, who tell horror stories of rampant infections, undetected cases of oral cancer and shoddy work south of the border -- claims hotly disputed by Mexican dentists. Rick Murray, executive director of the Arizona Dental Association, said he recently talked a friend out of taking his son to Mexico for treatment.

And this . . .

"Mexico!" Gloria Hunt remembers one pal saying. "You can't even drink the water down there."

Kinda makes you wonder . . .

Monday, June 18, 2007

Excellent Carnival Monday!

Wow: Two outstanding business/finance related carnivals this morning. Be forearned, though, both are chock full of posts (not a bad thing, BTW).
We'll take them alphabetically:
The Carnival of the Capitalists, hosted this week at Blog Business World, features 30 posts in 5 categories. Most include helpful context, as well.
The issue of ethics has been a recurring theme here at IB, so I was impressed with this post at the Sox First blog. In it, host Leon Gettler poses a series of questions to help new employees understand how a given company handles ethical conundrums.
Meanwhile, over at the Carnival of Personal Finance, host JD (blogging at Get Rich Slowly) offers up a mind-boggling 85 posts, most with helpful commentary. He's sprinkled some cleverly-chosen videos throughout - a lot of fun!
Since this edition marked the second anniversary of the Carnival, the theme was "favorite posts" from the past two years, and a lot of folks (including us) took that seriously. And you'd think that with over 7 dozen choices, it'd be hard to pick a favorite.
But it really wasn't:
Some 16 months ago, Jim at Blueprint to Financial Prosperity penned a heartfelt and important reminder that the map is not the territory, and we are not our assets, but so much more. Recommended.

Do HDHP's cause people to learn about health care?

The June 13 Wall Street Journal contained an article on the growing influence of patient groups on medical research. The article states,

Online patient groups have become an increasingly powerful force for health-care consumers over the past decade, raising funds for research and offering patient information and support. Now, as the cumulative power of their memberships grows, these groups are becoming invaluable partners to researchers and physicians searching for cures.”

This reminds me that the debate about high-deductible health plans may be missing an important point: HDHP’s are not the fundamental motive for patients to become increasingly informed about health issues, and are not the reason patients are trying to be “better shoppers” for health care. Instead, those developments were happening already - and independently. Access to health care information via the internet was around long before so-called “consumer-directed” health plans tiptoed onto the stage.

Viewed in this light, the true significance of the high-deductible plans may be that,

· AFTER consumers have influenced their health care treatment for the better

· based on more-informed discussion with their physician,

· the patient may realize some financial benefit, in some circumstances,

· from the health care choice they influenced

· because HDHP’s remove the insulation from costs that too many insurance plans provide.

But I do not believe that HDHP’s are driving some fresh new search by patients toward more health care knowledge. That search was already well under way; the key enabler is the internet; and as more and more people access the internet, the search for health indformation will continue to broaden and deepen.

Can the general public handle this new knowledge?

I think so. No one expects patients to become the equivalents of physicians, even tho some, as reported in the Journal article, will become very sophisticated. The general expectation is only to become aware of alternatives, possibilities, and relative costs (including approximate out-of-pocket costs).

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that, in 2007, a total of almost 21 million Americans cannot read a newspaper; cannot add, subtract, or balance a checkbook; cannot write a complete sentence; cannot speak - or can barely speak; do not vote; and are incapable of self-support. [Table 094 Midyear Population by Age and Sex.]

I’m referring to the population age 4 and below. Does the present ignorance of this population mean that we should expect these individuals can never learn how to be functioning members of our complex, modern society? Is it preferable to keep this population ignorant because someone might argue that learning is beyond their grasp?

I think the answer is self-evident: of course we can educate our children. Of course learning is not beyond their grasp. And of course we can expect our children to mature into self-sufficient adults.

In a similar fashion, I think it is a mistake to believe that the general adult public is incapable of absorbing increasingly sophisticated information in regard to their own health and health care.

The trend toward increasing general knowldege of health care is continuing - and IMO cannot be stopped. The so-called “consumer-directed” health plans simply provide a means and a financial incentive for knowledgeable individuals to pursue superior and in some cases lower-cost health care alternatives. We need not worry obsessively today about the growth of these plans. They will grow in proportion to the expanding health care knowledge of the population.

ADDENDUM: For a fascinating, real-time example of almost exactly the kind of issues Mike mentions, be sure to check out this post at Dr Wes' blog, and especially the comments section. HGS

Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Oldie But a Goodie

On more than one occasion, we at InsureBlog have had to admonish visitors (and some unwitting contributors) about health care vs. health insurance. Seems we are not alone in this drum beat.

Politicians and pundits lump the terms "health care" and "health insurance" together as though they are the same thing. For example, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, recently said, "One in 6 Americans does not have access to health care. And in my home state of Montana, an even greater percentage of people have limited access to health care: 1 in 5 Montanans lack health insurance."


Believing health care and health insurance are the same thing easily leads to some mistaken, if not dangerous, notions. It leads to the beliefs that (1) universal health care and universal health insurance are the same; and (2) that if a nation has universal health insurance, where the government pays for every citizen's health care, that nation will have universal health care, where citizens will have ready access to health care whenever they need it

Clarification. The GOVERNMENT pays for nothing. It is the TAXPAYER who actually opens their wallet.

In 1997, three patients in Northern Ontario, Canada, died while on a waiting list to receive heart surgery. One patient had been waiting more than six months to receive bypass surgery. In Britain, patient Mavis Skeet's cancer surgery was canceled four times, during which time her cancer became inoperable.

Thus the conflict between universal coverage and universal access.

In the U.S. anyone with the ability to pay has access to care. In many cases, you can get treatment without queueing up even if you lack the ability to pay.

In most countries where universal coverage is the standard, it really doesn't matter how much money you have, you still have to wait, and wait, and wait for care.

This sort of rationing can even reach the top tiers of society. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, for example, had to wait eight months for a hip replacement. As a result, he suffered in great pain and was unable to perform some of his governmental duties. Alice Mahon, a former member of the British Parliament, needs the drug Lucentis to slow her macular degeneration. Because of delays due to the National Health Service not yet having approved Lucentis at the time of her diagnosis, she lost much of the sight in her left eye

This can't be good.

It is important to note, however, that all these people had health insurance -- that is, their governments would pay for their health care. What they did not have was ready access to treatment. As the Canadian Supreme Court said upon ruling a ban on private health care as unconstitutional, "access to a waiting list is not access to health care."

Well said.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Take a Few Minutes

[Welcome, AoSHQ readers!]

24 minutes and 45 seconds to be exact.

That's how long it will take to learn about totally free health care.

No one pays.

No one is denied coverage because of their health.

This is the system everyone says they want.

Click here.

Thanks to Shawn Kennedy for the referral.

Cavalcade #28: Submissions Due

Submissions for next week's CoR, hosted by Julie at Workers Comp Insider, are due this coming Monday (the 18th).
You can submit your (or someone else's!) risk-related post via:
Please include:
■ Your blog's url
■ Your post's url
■ The trackback url (if applicable)
■ A (brief) summary
PS We're scheduling hosts for Summer '07, so don't wait too long to sign up!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Bit of Back-Patting...

Found this whilst poking around our SiteMeter readings. It's's World's Top Blogs on Health and Medicine:

We're in the top third (#31, to be exact), near our friends the Health Care Economist and the Health Affairs blog. Nice company, to be sure. I really don't know much about this site, but it's always nice to be in the upper levels of any "Top 100" list.

[ed: I'm sure that Bob will have one or two examples to disabuse you of that notion]

Health Wonk Review is up...

Host David Williams, proprietor of the Health Business Blog, hosts this week's round up of health care policy and polity. David weaves together a lot of posts into something that really flows like an intimate discussion. I really liked that.
I was intrigued by Jason Shafrin's finding that more isn't always better. He takes a look at how much is spent on treating End Stage Renal Disease, as compared to treatment success rates, and draws an interesting conclusion. Might this also be true of other chronic conditions?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


According to CMS (formerly HHS), the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted "to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay." The law dates back some 20 years, and is the standard for ER accessibility. EMTALA doesn't, however, dictate the level of care to be given, other than that hospitals are "required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs [emergency medical conditions]."
Suppose you were an ER provider (doc, nurse, whatever), and were presented with a woman writhing in pain on the floor, vomiting blood and moaning in agony. Would you agree that a reasonable and necessary reaction would be to ignore the woman for three quarters of an hour?
If you answered "yes," then you've got terrific company; namely, the folks in the ER at Los Angeles' Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital and two different 911 dispatchers, who refused to send an ambulance to help the poor woman find some of that reasonable and necessary care. As a result, the 43 year old woman died of massive internal bleeding.
So what's the opposite of "Good Samaritan?"

Sometimes it's WHAT you know...

Recently, a client called to complain about a rate increase [ed: there's a first time for everything!]; his plan was barely 5 months old, yet his rate was going up on July 1st. I reminded him that we had upgraded his previous coverage in February, from a generic co-pay plan to an HSA-compliant high deductible plan. We hadn't changed carriers to do this, so his renewal date, which happened to be July 1, didn't change. Thus, his scheduled rate increase would take effect on July 1.
In the course of our conversation, he also complained about how the HSA itself was doing; he had chosen to use his credit union as his loss fund administrator, and they had "disallowed" his over the counter (OTC) meds. One of the selling points of HSA plans is the ability to run these items through the account, and thus garner some tax breaks. He had purchased cough medicine and other necessities, and the CU had informed him that these were "no-no's" for an HSA.
Now, I knew that these expenses were "kosher," but the CU had referred my client to IRS form 502, which does, indeed, disallow them. But 502 is not the operative form here, 213(d) is.
Okay, let's step back a bit: although they're often conflated, "tax-deductible" is not the same as "pre-tax." That is, a deductible item comes off at the end of the year, when one files one's 1040 (or whichever). A pre-tax item comes off immediately, so there's no waiting. The point is, some medical items are "deductible," if one itemizes, and one's unreimbursed medical expenses exceed 7.5% of one's Adjusted Gross Income. I'm not an accountant, so I'll stop there.
In the event, the CU admin folks were referencing the wrong list in determining eligible items to reimburse. I knew that, but couldn't for the life of me find my copy of the correct, relevant list, the aforementioned 213(d). One would think that it would be all over the web, but that's not the case. Finally, a very nice lady at one of my carriers forwarded a copy to me, and I've made it available here.
HSA plans are insurance, and I sell those. But HSA loss fund accounts are not: they're money, and I don't sell them. I do keep a list of HSA resources, most of which come from my clients (who are kind enough to share their experiences with me). I don't know why this particular client chose his CU, but you can be sure that it won't be on my list.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Much ado about (not much)

We've addressed the issue of genes and underwriting before, so why bring it up again? Well, Dr Hsien-Hsien Lei (formerly of GeneticsAndHealth, and now at EyeOnDNA) is once again concerned about the use of genetic information in insurance underwriting. So what new information has come to light?
I'll let the good doctor fill us in:
[ed: BMJ is the British Medical Journal]
A quick search of Thomas (and Google) reveals that there's really not much actually happening with this issue, which doesn't surprise me (what with a presidential election coming up, and the recent brouhaha on immigration). I'm just not convinced that this is a particularly urgent problem.
I'm also unconvinced that it's any kind of problem: there seems to be a lot of fear-mongering on the issue in Dr Lei's post (although, to be fair, it's mostly in the comments section, by folks who are woefully ignorant of the underwriting process). These seem to boil down to two items of contention:
First, that somehow carriers will be able to use one's genetic info to make underwriting decisions about one's family members. Aside from the fact that this kind of information isn't shared among carriers anyway, it certainly isn't used to pit the insurance interests of family members at odds.
Second, to the extent that such information is helpful to an underwriter, it's in the realm of pricing (or whether or not to offer coverage at all). It's really no different than knowing whether or not the applicant is a smoker, or a diabetic, or recently had knee surgery. All of this goes into the mix, and genetic information may (or may not) play some role. There's nothing particularly sinister about it (and since I'm a member of a group in which this might be an issue, I can speak with some authority on the matter).
One of the folks involved in the BMJ debate, Prof Soren Holm, opined that "if we allow insurers to have some kinds of health information, such as a person's BMI or cholesterol level we no longer have any principled reason for excluding genetic information." I think that's exactly right: as noted, carriers need as much relevant information as they can get to adequately assess the risk.
That key word, "relevant", is important: underwriters really don't care whether you're a redhead, blond or bald. Neither the color of your eyes or your skin makes one whit of difference in your rate. Prof Holm concludes that "[g]enetic information is not special. It is not inherently more specific, predictive, sensitive or private than other kinds of health information." Right again: it's really no different than your height or weight, or whether or not you smoke.
The danger is that a carrier might conclude that, due to a genetic predisposition, one might become a diabetic, and therefore either decline, or charge more for, someone with that marker. As indicated before, this isn't legal here, nor is that likely to change.
In a related article, a potential insured asks if testing positive for a genetic marker for breast cancer would affect her future ability to purchase insurance. Aside from the legal reasons why this would not be the case, there are practical ones: insurance applications don't ask about genetic tests.
Again, there's just no there there.
Frankly, this seems to be a non-issue.
ADDENDUM: In re-reading this post, it occurs to me that it's unnecessarily harsh regarding Dr Lei's position. She posits an understandable (and often justifiable) skepticism about how insurers might use the results of genetic testing. Inasmuch as current laws pretty much prevent insurers from using such results, I don't share her concern.
On the other hand, if those restrictions were to be lifted, I would definitely want to reexamine the issue.

Unique Grand Rounds...

Val Jones, hostess of Revolution Health, has posted 2 (two!) versions of 'Rounds this week: there's the "Immediate Release" (a la Evelyn Woods) version, for those that just want to zip right through, and the more sedate "Extended Release," which includes context and commentary. You really can't go wrong with either one; both include 34 posts in 6 categories for easy perusal.
As a proud Trekker (true fans hate the term "Trekkie"), Nurse Ratched's post on ST:TOS character Nurse Christina Chapel (aka Mrs Roddenberry) as role model was convincing and obviously heartfelt. Plus, Nurse R has vowed to watch every episode of every ST iteration.
There's a very thin line between dedication and nuts.

Look Here

Kind of off topic, but not really.

I get requests on a regular basis for dental & vision plans. Personally, I think most are a waste of money. If you have a group plan, and your employer pays a significant portion of the premium, then either or both might be a good deal for the employee and dependents.

You have to run the numbers to see if it makes sense or not.

About 2 months ago I popped close to $500 for an eye exam for my wife + a new set of glasses. Not too long after that a friend told me about eyeglasses for $8.

Oh yeah, I know about those. You get them at Disney World and they come with Mickey or Minnie frames.

Seems I was wrong. You can get REAL glasses with REAL lenses for $8 and up.

I have not (yet) ordered glasses for myself, but may very soon. A few people I know who have ordered glasses say they have no problem with the glasses and recommend them to anyone.

So if you don't have a vision plan, you might want to check this out.

Zenni Optical

Monday, June 11, 2007

Heartless or Pragmatic?

A Nashville woman seemingly has to choose between her family's financial well-being and a distant relative's health.
Pam Melson, who works at a Nashville-area clothing factory, would like to donate a kidney to someone at the far end of her family tree. The challenge is that the procedure would require her to miss quite a bit of work, and her employer is unwilling to guarantee that her job will still be there for her when she returns.
My first thought was that FMLA would apply, but that turned out not to be the case. Exacerbating the issue is that, by her own admission, Ms Melson has "missed more than a month of work this year, mostly to care for her three children when they were sick." Seems like she's got a few more issues than cousin Donnie (Hammack).
Cost of care doesn't seem to be an issue: Medicaid (i.e. you and me) is paying for the procedure. The challenge is really about job security. Does an employer have an obligation to hold someone's job who simply wants to play Good Samaritan?
And this isn't about nationalized health care, either: the gummint is already paying both Ms Melmick's and her cousin's med bills for the transplant.
For me, the key was this sentence: "Dr. Mark A. Wigger said Hammack could probably survive for another five years without a transplant." There's nothing particularly urgent about this, so I'm curious why Ms Melmick appears so bitter. I happen to think transplants are a great thing, and I applaud her altruism in wanting to help her cousin. But she also claims that she's "her family's sole financial provider....(and) can't afford to risk her job."
Seems to me, charity begins at home.

Carnival Monday - A Conundrum

First, the links:
The Carnival of Personal Finance is at Getting Green. It's a big, impersonal list of about 80 posts. It's categorized (sorta), but not usefully.
We're in it, but I'm not sure that's such an accomplishment.
And the Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Scatterbox (cool name. BTW). We're not in that one, but our good friend Joe Kristan (Roth & Co) is, and his post warning about dubious emails is a must-read.
Now the conundrum:
I like carnivals. I think they help expose readers to new (to them) blogs, they increase traffic for blogs that may not be so well-known, and gosh-darn-it, they're fun.
Having instigated a carnival, and having hosted several editions of both it and another, I know that putting one together can be tedious. Most of us have "real jobs," so we can't spend too many hours on reading, digesting, and summarizing a ton of links.
And so, a host's dilemna:
Include every post that's submitted (as long as it's in some way relevant), or play editor, and post only a select few?
The former has the benefit of being easy, and it avoids hurting folks' feelings (if everyone's in, then no one got left out). The latter has the benefit of relevance, and easier compilation for the host, and readability for the visitor.
This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is an example of the "just throw it all in the pot" model. There's obviously no attempt to cull out good (relevant) posts from bad (irrelevant) ones. This is evident from the fact that no summaries are included. The result is a huge "link dump," which I daresay few people are going to slog through. Much as I like that we're included (as we were not for the Capitalists), it's really to damn with faint praise.
In the past few months, we've only made it into the Carnival of the Capitalists once or twice. Sure I'm disappointed, but the posts that were included seemed relevant, and the host provided helpful context. The problem is that we'll never know what other posts, that didn't make the cut, were also worth reading.
I don't have any really good answers. Perhaps something "down the middle:" give the host some editorial discretion and specific guidelines, and tell them to pick the best (most relevant?) 15 or 20 for the actual Carnival, but provide a listing of all the other entries (with any summaries their contributors included) in either a separate post, or as an addendum to the Carnival.
Just some (carnie) food for thought.

Blog vs. Blog

At Insureblog we have sometimes we have been known to joust with other bloggers.

OK, perhaps it happens more than just on occasion.

And maybe I am guilty of the offense more than others.

Emergiblog is kind enough to send me updates of new postings.

OK, I admit it. I signed up for the notification.

I like the style, layout & information. A very good site overall.

In todays offering I noted that Kim supports the single payor system promoted by the Physicians for National Health.

That's OK. Everyone has a right to their opinion. What I can't figure out is why providers want a single pay, government run system. Isn't Medicare & Medicaid bad enough for providers? Are they just gluttons for punishment? Do they really enjoy accepting reimbursement that is almost half of their usual rate?

It seems the physicians are using the standard argument. The U.S. health care system is outrageously expensive, yet inadequate. Despite spending more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations ($7,129 per capita), the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates

Seems no one ever mentions the queue in other nations. No one says anything about how some citizens of these supposedly superior systems buy private insurance to supplement the nationalized system or they pay out of pocket or sometimes even come to the U. S. for care.

Wonder why that is never mentioned?

Moreover, the other advanced nations provide comprehensive coverage to their entire populations, while the U.S. leaves 46 million completely uninsured and millions more inadequately covered.

I guess one should define what is "adequate" coverage.

The reason we spend more and get less than the rest of the world is because we have a patchwork system of for-profit payers. Private insurers necessarily waste health dollars on things that have nothing to do with care

Ah yes, profits. The 4 letter word of American capitalism.

But medical providers are supposed to be not-for-profit?

Does anyone think docs make obscene incomes?

Of course not. It is only the insurance companies that are gouging the public and contributing to the excessive mark up on health insurance.


And of course there is the obligatory reference to the imaginary admin figure that further inflates the cost of health insurance.

Doctors and hospitals must maintain costly administrative staffs to deal with the bureaucracy. Combined, this needless administration consumes one-third (31 percent) of Americans’ health dollars.

Everyone says 31%. No one ever bothers to PROVE that figure.

Wonder why?

Single-payer financing is the only way to recapture this wasted money

OK, let's say for chuckles & grins the figure is 31%. Let's say the "government" can administer the same plan for 10%. That cut's 21% off the cost of care . . . for ONE YEAR.

Then what happens?

Medical inflation eats up that savings in about a year.

Unless of course the new, single payor, government run program does what they are doing now for Medicare. If the government arbitrarily decides it will cut reimbursement to providers by 21% then the savings can continue for perhaps 2 years.

And if the government decides they will no longer pay for certain meds, or some end of life care, or will limit the number of places you can go for care then the consumer gets hit too.

Just like on those other countries where there are queue's.

Yes, the single payor system is wonderful.

At least until you look at it without your rose colored glasses.

Peace, Kim!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Abby Normal

Here's something you don't read every day.

It is being reported that four people have been charged after it was discovered that they were behind an operation that saw false brain surgery claims being filed with an insurance company.

According to reports, the four accused people billed a health insurance company for 20 brain surgeries that never even took place, some of which took place on the same person on multiple occasions.

20 brain surgeries, some with the same person.

New York-based Group Health Incorporated is the name of the health insurance company who was taken for a ride by a 36-year-old from New York City who claimed nine brain surgeries for himself, along with his wife and two sons.

The family supposedly billed the insurance company for a total of $142,268, and based on the claims, they paid more than $300,000 in reimbursements

Sounds like something from a Mel Brooks movie.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Irrelevant, but Frustrating

Okay, this has NOTHING to do with insurance, but it does relate to customer service and, more critically, goodwill.
Our home is warm, inviting, comfortable, and almost 50 years old (much like its owners). Unfortunately, some of the existing telephone wiring dates back to Bell & Watson, which has caused us, over the years, to purchase approximately 897 cordless phones, hoping to find "the one" that will work without interference.
Imagine my delight in finding that the new DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephone) technology offers exactly the kind of performance for which I'd been so fruitlessly shopping. I looked around, and found a very cool GE model (sleek, flat, black and BOSE-quality sound). I bought the single base unit because I've been burned before, and didn't want to eat two phones.
No worries, it works flawlessly.
Well, except for one small detail: I have looked all over the web for the expansion handset, visited every local brick-and-mortar, and come up completely empty-handed.
No problem, I'll just drop GE an email asking where to purchase a model #28106. I was that specific in my email. Here's their (idiotic) reply:
"Thank you for your recent inquiry about where to buy GE telephones. GE Telephones can be purchased from retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, RadioShack, etc... You can also purchase GE products from If you are looking for GE Telephone Accessories (such as optional handsets, replacement batteries, headsets, etc...), there is an Accessory Order Form in the back of your instruction book to order by mail or you can call our toll-free number (1-800-338-0376) to order by credit card."
Um, NO!!! you can't. None of these stores stock this item, either on the web or down the street. And when I call your stupid 800 numbers, they refer me to other 800 numbers, which refer me back to the original one. I did manage to find one -- just one -- actual human being (Chris) who pointed me to They do have quite the selection, just not (apparently), the one I want.
What's so utterly frustrating is that GE had (apparently completely by accident) built an enormous amount of goodwill with their product, which they've now squandered by making it well-nigh impossible to buy another (compatible) product.
I wonder if there's a lesson in this.